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Saturday, February 21

U.S. soldier in Iraq unscathed after close encounter with rocket

By Robert Hodierne | Military Times

FALLUJAH, Iraq - There are two ways of looking at it.

First way, Ruben Garcia should have put all his money on a lottery ticket because Saturday was his lucky day. Or, he should never bet on anything ever again because he had just used up all of his luck.

He and his friends debated this philosophical point as they examined the hole punched through the plywood-covered window just alongside the 27-year-old specialist's head. The hole punched by the 57mm anti-tank rocket that then passed through a wooden computer desk - leaving the computer unharmed - and planted itself harmlessly in the concrete wall on the other side of the room. A rocket with a warhead powerful enough to punch through four inches of armor.

Garcia, of Miami, was stretched out on his upper bunk, the rock band Tool's ``Lateralus'' blaring in his headphones, when the rocket hit at 10:40 Saturday morning.

``There was a lot of smoke in the room,'' Garcia said. ``I didn't notice the hole at first. What I figured happened is a mortar landed on the roof and the roof was caving in.''

When he looked around he said he ``saw the hole there (in the plywood) and it had fin traces ... I knew a rocket came through. ... I figured, the rocket didn't detonate, the best thing to do was just get out of the room.''

Rocket, mortar and rocket-propelled grenade attacks are so common at this 82nd Airborne Division forward operating base on the outskirts of Fallujah that it takes something as remarkable as Garcia's near miss to raise eyebrows.

In that same Saturday attack, one of the four rockets fired exploded just 70 feet from three soldiers walking down a road picking up trash. Moments after the dust settled, the soldiers continued on their way, picking up cigarette butts and candy wrappers.

One of those three, Sgt. Joshua Carroll, 23, of Atlanta, said later of their quick return to their work, ``I know it sounds weird, but there's nothing you can do about it. ... I figured it was over. They usually only fire five or six rounds.''

Besides, Carroll said, 70 feet isn't especially close. He said he had a rocket-propelled grenade whiz past him three weeks ago, missing by two feet.

And it wasn't the first time Garcia's house has been attacked. A few months earlier, a mortar landed just outside, slightly wounding a member of his unit. On Saturday, fifteen minutes after the rocket careened past his head, Garcia smoked a cigar and made jokes.

Spc. Mary Bigalk, 22, a reservist from Oshkosh, Wis., was in the same building with Garcia, 20 feet from the rocket's path. Bigalk goes into downtown Fallujah on a regular basis and shrugged off the near miss.

``This is nothing,'' she said. ``It's just another day in Fallujah.''